Yes, we have the Tennessee Titans, but high school football is still the heart of Middle Tennessee sports. In that world, perennial powerhouse Montgomery Bell Academy is the focus of much of the conversation. In the past week though, the conversation has turned to a topic the school would rather do without.
A controversy over financial aid to a student's family is brewing at the program, which is regularly ranked as one of the best in the country. While boosters and school officals have remained tight-lipped, the tenure of head coach Daniel McGugin is uncertain.
Calls to MBA administrators have gone unanswered, but an investigation has uncovered the following: In 2008, an underclassman student and football player was admitted to MBA with the help of need-based financial aid. Shortly after his admission, the father of the student told other parents his wife had been recently laid off from her employment and the family was facing financial difficulty.
After hearing the story, parents of other MBA athletes took up a collection to assist the family through its hardship. The money was raised privately and not in connection whith the school or the athletic program. The controversy apparently erupted several weeks ago when, after the student was not assured a starting position on the football team, his parents disclosed the financial assistance to MBA headmaster Bradford Gioia.
Gioia, who has reported the matter as a possible rules violation to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, has not responded to calls on the matter.
When contacted, MBA head football coach Daniel McGugin stated, "I am proud to be the coach of MBA football and associated with this institution. I have done nothing that has been deemed immoral or unethical by the TSSAA, the MBA Board of Trust, or the headmaster of this school. I look forward to the the 2011 MBA football season."
Pressed for details, McGugin said that, while he is now aware of the financial assistance to the family of the student, he did not know of it when it occurred.
A meeting was held last night to discuss the future of the football program. Details from that gathering are not yet known, but it appears McGugin has survived the controversy — so far.
UPDATED at 8:30 a.m. to correct details of student's admission to MBA.